Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Elton John - "11-17-70"

As a music listener there are a number of Elton John songs that I love, yet despite his excellent songs his albums often leave me unimpressed. This is the only Elton John album I own and it is a live showcase recorded shortly before "Your Song" became a number one smash. It is a live in studio concert (with a small audience) that was broadcast on live radio at the time.

By and large John performs like a rock and roll/blues/soul animal. This features his simple killer live trio of John on piano and vocals, Nigel Olsson on drums, and Dee Murray on bass. Many non-John fans seek out this album; not because of its rarity, it is readily available on CD and iTunes though it is a lesser known album. The song choices are why they seek it out.

He tears through a number of his lesser known songs with excellent readings of "Take me To the Pilot" and a killer cover of the Rolling Stones "Honky Tonk Women." All the tracks are either early album tracks, covers, or B-sides that did not appear on his albums. There is also that rock and roll jam style with all the seven tracks at least going five minutes, one over seven minutes and the closer an 18 minute medley that includes a section of The Beatles "Get Back."

The 1995 CD reissue, (the version I own) on John's Rocket Records as part of "Elton John The Classic Years" reissue series, has a decent booklet with historical notes but the sound is a bit softer than you would expect. Many Amazon reviewers prefer the out of print British CD import reissue from the same 1990s period.

Most fans will be happy with a good Greatest Hits compilation. Overall "11-17-70" is not necessary but a fun good live record and a wonderful showcase of Elton John before his massive success and before all his excess of the 1970s.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Billy Joel -"2000 Years The Millennium Concert"

On December 31, 1999 Billy Joel held a sold out concert at Madison Square Garden to celebrate the new millennium and he also labeled it his last concert (that didn't stick as about ten years later he went back on tour). The event lasted nearly four hours and acted as a history of his recording career and a great encapsulation of the 20th century and a warm welcome to the 21st. Equal mixes of heartfelt performance and sheer spectacle abound.

Two hours of that concert were released in May 2000 as this live album. It is not a bad album but not a great one either. At this point in his career Joel had released two live albums: the powerhouse 1981 release "Songs in the Attic" which shined a light on his lesser known great songs and thus made them big hits. Then there was the 1987 release "Kohuept" a document of his touring of the U.S.S.R. that was more of a historical release.

Here Joel tries to combine the two concepts. "I've Loved These Days," "My Life" and "Summer Highland Falls" all take on a special quality not only because it is the new millennium but also considering Joel's decision to retire from music and not tour for many years; they reach the "Songs in the Attic" feel. Many of those moments appear throughout the two discs but there are also lots of pure spectacle and average runs of a number of songs. Occasionally Joel's voice is pretty weak, the end of "New York State of Mind" really strains.

All in all this is a decent if unspectacular live album, better as capturing a moment in time and probably better if you were in the audience that night.  This is really for the most die-hard fans. His more recent concert album "12 Gardens Live" a compilation of his record setting 12 simultaneous sold out shows at Madison Square Garden is a far better live album with Joel in great energy and spirits. I keep this album because I became a Billy Joel fan right when he retired and this was his first non-Greatest Hits release between 1993 and 2000, so I picked it up.  Billy Joel is one of my favorites.